Last night, in a move I can only describe as “fueled by a deep and all-encompassing self loathing,” I streamed Garfield Kart: Furious Racing. As you might expect, the game is a third-rate Mario Kart clone peopled by Garfield and a number of his friends, and featuring items and levels vaguely referencing Garfield’s long history. A number of things about the experience are disturbing: the image of Garfield racing his human owner Jon in a sports car, the fact that none of the characters’ mouths or fingers animate, the presence of “Harry,” who appears to be a kind of Wa-garfield.
But most unsettling of all, in my hour and change spent with the game I realized that Garfield Kart: Furious Racing actually contained a number of good design elements that I haven’t seen in a kart racing game before.
1. Multi-Use Items
Furious Racing has two buttons to deploy items, which it for some reason calls “bonuses.” Like in Mario Kart, items such as pies (the equivalent of green shells) can be fired forward or backward. But some items can be used in multiple ways. At first glance, the Spring appears to be functionally identical to Mario Kart‘s feather, sending your racer into the air to dodge obstacles and reach new areas. But it can also be dropped behind you to create a hazard, providing tactical flexibility in the middle of a race.
Mario Kart has karts, gliders, and wheels. Garfield Kart has karts, spoilers, and hats. Hats provide item-specific bonuses, with each increasing the effect of one specific pickup. If you looked really closely, they’re probably unbalanced, with some clear winners and losers. But they give you options for customizing your play style beyond the simple acceleration-top speed-handling stat trio, and you still have to get the item for the hat to come into play.
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3. The Magic Wand
Most items in kart racers serve one of two functions: strengthening your position or weakening your enemy’s. The Magic Wand, however, combines these two roles. Hitting another racer with the wand swaps your positions in a kind of slingshot effect, pulling them backwards while launching you forward.
4. No Blue Shells
Blue Shells are a menace in Mario Kart. They only appear for competitors in the lower ranks, and only target the lead player, meaning they’re almost always solely a spoiler tactic. Garfield Kart‘s lead-killer item works differently. When a player activates the UFO bonus, it sends three flying saucers ahead of the first-place racer. They hover ahead of the course and cycle between red and green beams. If the racer hits a red beam, they’re pulled into the air and lose time. But if they manage to pass through the green one, they can keep going. It’s a neat way of causing problems for the lead player without condemning them to a certain hit.
No room for mother-in-law.